It’s not that often that you find yourself standing in a crowd of men raising your arm in salute and chanting “Hail and Kill!” In fact, to my normally liberal sensibilities, there is something not quite right about such behaviour. When Pink Floyd drew parallels between fascist rallies and rock concerts, it may all have seemed like vague millionaire whinging and tortured metaphor, but now I’m not so sure.
But why have doubts when confronted by the sheer bollock rattling volume emitting from what appears to be a PA system beamed in from some masturbatory sonic fantasy. Conversation is impossible, but in any case, what would be discussed? The only subject here today is METAL, as brought to us by its undoubted overlords, Manowar.
There’s no denying it: truly they are the Kings of Metal. We know this because they tell us, repeatedly. Manowar is a metal version of those motivational speakers who teach you ways to pump your confidence so that in the end you truly believe you can conquer all who stand in your way. They are the Paul McKenna of motivational metallurgists.
For those of you yet to experience their singular vision, here’s some backstory. Manowar were formed in 1980 by bassist Joey DeMaio, guitarist Ross the Boss and vocalist Eric Adams. Typically, they’ve had a succession of drummers over the years, most notably the handlebar moustachioed Scott Columbus. For most of their career they’ve ploughed a lonely furrow, fighting against what they term the forces of False Metal, typified by the spandex, hairspray and inherent “pussyness” of prevailing eighties rock trends. They’ve weathered changes of musical fashion by staying firmly in one place, and if anything are now even more fundamentalist in their vision of metal Valhalla. Even in their fifties, they can still be found clad in animal skins and leather chaps, their bulging biceps lightly oiled and gleaming in the pyro. They have performed with 100 piece orchestras, recorded a version of Nessun Dorma, and performed the William Tell overture as a bass solo. In short, they rock.
Manowar are here in Glasgow for the first time since 1984 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut, “Battle Hymns”. Many of tonight’s audience have waited since then to see their heroes return, judging by the expanding waistlines and receding hairlines in evidence. Metal fans are unfailingly loyal, and this is especially true of Manowar’s. Numerous examples of the band’s fantasy themed artwork adorn bodies and clothing, and the merchandise stall is doing brisk business, even at 30 pound a t-shirt. Should you get lucky, you can even buy Manowar condoms, known as “Warrior’s Shields”, tastefully emblazoned with the romantic legend “Rock, Drink and Fuck”, which may or may not be intended as instructions.
Like most successful business, Manowar is a brand. Everything is calculated to appeal to their core audience, from their artwork of muscled warriors and busty submissive wenches to songs such as Warriors of the World, Metal Warriors, Hymn of the Immortal Warriors and Hymn of the Immortal Metal Warrior of Steel. Okay, I made the last one up, but they will probably get to it eventually. So precious is this brand that bootlegging or photography is policed with frightening efficiency, with guards aiming laser pens at errant camera phones. Most fans here paid almost sixty quid a ticket and have likely spent the equivalent on merchandise, so perhaps it seems somewhat churlish to deny them the chance to take a photograph of their heroes, but Manowar are so definitively of a bygone age perhaps they fear their souls may be diminished.
So the faithful have gathered like storm clouds over distant plains, although the Army of Immortals fail to fill the entire venue and the upstairs balcony remains resolutely closed. As the band hit the stage to their theme song, dubbed, naturally, “Manowar”, I am struck by two things: the sound is perhaps the clearest I have ever heard at a rock concert, but it is also, surprisingly, not that loud. After all, this is a band who achieved Guinness Record status in 1984 with a performance of 139db, over 50 decibels above the recommended safe limit. My ear plugs remain in my pocket, but it’s a cunning ruse. Once the levels are set, the volume fader goes ever upwards. By the time the third song is reached, my ear plugs are in and the music is actually beginning to affect the composition of my internal organs. The band power through their debut album in its entirety, and I allow myself a definite tear of nostalgia as “Battle Hymn” reaches a thunderous climax of feedback and screams.
And then, we stop. Just as the audience are warming up, the band announces an intermission. The idea of such bloodthirsty warriors nipping backstage for a quick pee, cuppa and maybe a cheeky scone seems oddly out of place. I scan the hall to see if a scantily clad pleasure slave has emerged from the wings bearing Manowar’s own brand of choc-ices, but it seems we are to stock up on alcohol in readiness for the concert’s second half, which arrives soon afterwards with yet another increase in volume.
There is no doubt Manowar are in great shape. DeMaio, with his long straight black hair, resembles a Cherokee chief on the warpath, his expression seemingly carved out of granite while he plays his bass in the manner of a lead guitarist. Adams possesses a voice to match the bulging of his muscles, which bring to mind Clive James’ memorable description of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a “condom stuffed with walnuts”. Guitarist Karl Logan operates with the studied demeanour of a classical musician, peeling off the mighty riffs like flesh from a thigh bone.
It is all ridiculously entertaining and performed utterly straight faced. Manowar truly believe in everything they sing about. They are on a mission, and would, should it come to it, “Die for Metal”, although why such sacrifice should be required is left unclear. Their lyrical view, when not dealing with motorbikes and heavy metal, is firmly focussed on mythology of either Norse or Greek origin. The overall effect is Wagnerian in intensity and intent, which perhaps explains their popularity in Germany and Greece. Unusual for a metal band, they don’t really go in for Satanism, and references to Hell are more likely to refer to Hades than any Christian notions. Instead, they hark back to an idealised paganism or warrior society, and although they profess to stand for freedom, they do so by adhering to a strict code of behaviour. Honour, sacrifice, death, victory, vengeance; these are the main pillars of Manowar’s religion.
In our age of irony, when nothing can be taken at face value and everything must be approached with a knowing smirk, such dedication is commendable. This crowd knows exactly what they want and Manowar are happy to deliver it to them, re-affirming a sense of belonging and community which is no doubt sadly lacking in many other areas of life. Manowar exist outside the whims of fashion, standing up for what they believe, whatever that might be. With their eagles, swords, and black and red hammer emblems, as if Albert Speer was in charge of creative direction. Allied to DeMaio’s dedication to Wagner and the fascination with power and domination, there’s something disturbingly familiar about their iconography. Is it any wonder that extreme right wing idealogues, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn party, draw their support from disenfranchised working class males, much like Manowar’s audience, unhappy with their perceived powerlessness in the face of encroaching modernity?
I could be reading too much into this and I’m certainly not accusing Manowar of being fascists. Maybe I am, in the parlance of Manowar, a False One, an unbeliever. But, as I raise my imaginary Hammer high, shout “Hail and Kill!” with my fellow fans, and watch DeMaio prise the strings off his guitar with his bare hands, I feel strangely exhilarated and somewhat spent. And you can’t ask for more than that from a rock and roll show, can you?